DEMOCRATIC PARTY HISTORY: A REVEALING RAP SHEET
Within the last month or so, the “progressive” and “alternative” media have been filling up with articles and programs advocating that activists work for one candidate or another within the Democratic Party. We’re told that getting rid of George Bush is the most important item on the agenda, trumping all else, and the question is merely which particular candidate to throw support to, and that if enough of us get involved, “we” can bring the Democrats back to where they should be. Many advocate Dennis Kucinich, the “most radical member of Congress” (Leslie Kean, Pacifica Radio’s Berkeley station KPFA). Others such as web writer Lloyd Hart advance former Vermont governor Howard Dean as more electable. And some such as Geov Parrish even argue on “pragmatic” grounds that the right move is to back Senator John Kerry, deemed the most “progressive” of the front runners. Each of these candidates needs to have his record closely scrutinized and exposed (and i will do so below), but the main point of this article is not to debunk specific individuals. Rather, it is to reveal an important aspect of the Democratic Party, its historic role as a counterinsurgency operation whose aim is to co-opt and sidetrack political activists, keep them from creating an independent political movement, and divert their energy into legitimating and reinforcing the political system which maintains the status-quo. Furthermore, the notion that the current Democratic Party represents a total break with that party’s tradition will be debunked, revealing that not only today’s Democrats, but the essentials of Bush’s policies, are rooted in actions taken by Democratic Party administrations.
Woodrow Wilson and the Beginnings of the Shadow Government
By the last quarter of the 19th Century, if not before then, the Democratic Party was already operating as a front for wealthy interests , as revealed by the union-busting policies of Grover Cleveland. But its aspect as a tool of cooptation did not become operative till the re-election campaign of Woodrow Wilson in 1916. At that point in time, a large social/political opposition movement existed in the U.S., one that in spite of a late start compared to Europe had developed into quite a strong political force, outside the conventional political arena. It included some groups working within electoral politics, many others outside that frame, and with many people in it embracing politics that looked beyond capitalism, debating both theory and tactics. One place to read about this is Kenneth Rexroth’s autobiography. Wilson had issued many proclamations about the need for the U.S. government to forcefully pursue the needs of US businesses overseas, proclamations which were acted upon via the dispatch of troops into nations such as Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (see “War is a Racket” by Smedly Butler). Yet quite a few left activists argued in 1916 that the Republican candidate Charles Hughes represented a threat to peace and human rights which was so great that it was necessary to support Wilson’s re-election bid, as his campaign slogan was “He kept us out of war”. John Reed was one who made such an argument, re-created in the movie “Reds”.
Wilson won re-election, the first Democrat to do so since before the Civil War. Within a month of his re-inauguration, he took the U.S. into World War I, a step increasingly demanded by large New York banks who saw their loans to the “allies” threatened by a stalemated war between imperial blocs. The drift had been quite clear,however, since 1915, when the Wilson administration began setting up incidents with the German navy over American ships carrying war supplies to Britain, e.g the Lusitania. At the same time, the Wilson administration adopted extremely repressive measures at home, exemplified by raids against radical groups conducted by Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. Many radicals were thrown in jail, deported, a few even executed, radical groups such as the I.W.W were smashed, while even relatively mild socialists like Eugene Debs were jailed, and xenophobic anti-German measures became law, one of which outlawed the sale of cole slaw (to be re-named “liberty salad”; sounds familiar?). Amongst other things, a new agency which was to be named the F.B.I. emerged out of all this. John Reed was one of those who had to leave the U.S. Amazingly enough, some folks still throw Wilson’s name out as a “progressive”. And his secretary of state William Jennings Bryan is primarily known for being the “populist” Democratic candidate in 1896.
Wilson’s administration domestically put into effect many features of “Progressive” politics (i.e. Teddy Roosevelt-style Progressives) which revolved around the regulation of capitalism towards the aim of eliminating or at least hiding the worst excesses of the system,while acting to increase the concentration and centralization of capital, as discussed very thoroughly in Gabriel Kolko’s “The Triumph of Conservatism”. The most far-reaching of these was the formation of the Federal Reserve Bank, which amounted to turning over the nations’s money system to a central bank that was nominally a public institution, but in reality a unit owned privately by international financiers. Wilson’s advisers and their associates, people from the more forward-looking elements of big business, particularly the finance sector, also wanted to put into effect on a global level measures to rationalize the operation of the capitalist market, seeing as they did that the system’s international mode of operation was leading to mounting instability and clashes between large national capitalist interests. Their domestic measures outlasted the rule of the Democrats, and became part of a bipartisan consensus. So did their police state repressive measures, which took out much of the more radical sector of the American left, leaving behind those who favored slow-paced reformism within the political structure or those whose allegiance lay with the new Soviet state. But Wilson’s international aims were abandoned as the Republicans took over the reins of power in 1920. The Democratic global agenda became a lobbying goal for groups such as the newly created Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and other outfits funded by foundations which received their money from corporate coffers, particularly from the Northeast. And these continued to have a home in the Democratic Party.
Buddy, Can You Spare a Deal?
Republicans ruled through the Roaring ‘20s. But then the Wall caved in. The “boom” turned out to be fed by a stock market speculation bubble, which burst and revealed a world mired in deepening crisis. Many Americans found themselves impoverished to an unbelievable extent, and quite a few even began radical political practice just to survive, e.g. collective resistance to evictions, unemployed councils, expropriation of business property for use. This pressure mounted as the ‘30s began, with no sign whatsoever of a recovery, in fact the conditions kept on worsening. Something had to be done quickly to head off a possible revolutionary upsurge. And this led to the election of FDR. Roosevelt actually campaigned in 1932 on a fairly conservative platform. But once in office he faced a huge emergency, the collapse of the banking system. He and his advisers devised a makeshift set of policies which primarily consisted of unprecedented state intervention and regulation, with the idea that government spending could prop up the collapsing market system and eventually would lead to recovery.This policy, which came to be known as the New Deal ( a version of the economics espoused by John Maynard Keynes), did not aim at superseding capitalism, but at rescuing it. Its main designers were in fact captains of capital, men such as GE’s Reginald Jones, W. Averel Harriman of Union Pacific and Herbert Lehman of Wall St. And their policies differed little from other schemes of state intervention of the day such as in Germany. One FDR adviser even stated that the New Deal was doing some of the same things that Hitler was, but “in an orderly way”. (“The Secret Diary of Harold Ickes: The First 1000 Days”, New York, 1953, p. 104). The main result of the New Deal was in fact further concentration and centralization of capital, especially in the finance sector.
Many on the Left, seeing the New Deal as being inherently good since promoting government influence is a step towards socialism (a complete misidentification of socialism as state control), and being pragmatists, a tendency which put emphasis on “getting things done” vs. acquiring a theoretical understanding of capitalism, socialism and how to go from one to the other, turned into supporters of the New Deal, eschewing work intended to promote an independent political movement aimed at radical change. Some beneficial changes did ensue. A social welfare system which provided a safety net under working people did help ameliorate the worst symptoms of the misery, but without dealing with the causes. Labor unions were finally granted the right to organize, but in turn had to accept the right of capital to own the means of production, a “right“ upon which capital’s superior social position is based, which in reality represents centuries of blatant theft of land and labor power. The free-fall of economic conditions was stopped, and many working people saw actual material improvements in their lives, though much of that was achieved and defended by extra-electoral means. Those leftists who took their marching orders from Moscow found out Stalin wanted the New Deal to be supported. Thus, the Left pretty much supported FDR’s 1936 re-election bid, which solidified a control of the US political process by the Democrats that was largely to last till the ‘70s. But the basics behind the global crisis were not addressed. State intervention measures thus ran their course, as they did in the European countries which resorted to them. By 1937, the Depression resumed a downward course, and FDR began to talk of the need for the US to win overseas markets and sources of raw materials if its economy was to truly recover. The New Deal was ready to enter a new stage, the international one. Contrary to current beliefs, the New Deal did not end the depression; economic conditions remained miserable well into World War II (with inflation joining unemployment as a problem by Pearl Harbor time) and the Depression ended only due to the war.
Roosevelt’s election led to people from the CFR and other elite groups taking over U.S. foreign policy. This policy from the start involved the assertion of global interests of American business. By the late ‘30s, the U.S. government had embarked on a policy of pushing exports, securing access to materials, and securing control of its own spheres of influence, in particular Latin America and Asia, policies that its competitors were pursuing with zeal as well. Elite planners determined that Japan and Germany were rivals whose aims were increasingly in conflict with the interests of American capital (“Trilateralism”, by Holly Sklar, Chapter One). This was to lead to active planning aimed at inducing Japan to initiate a war with the US, a plan that succeed quite well with the (fully anticipated!) attack on Pearl Harbor and which led to a nation united in its support of a war effort whose real goals were not quite visible to the general public. The war solidified support for the New Deal once again, with the Left on board, especially with the Soviet Union as an “ally”, and never mind the American workers cannibalized in the factories, mines and offices, who had to watch out for their own interests (often via wildcat strikes). The war also meant that a bipartisan consensus emerged around a policy designed by the CFR, whose essence was a global empire run by the U.S. Out of this came institutions of global coordination of capitalist interests such as the I.M.F, World Bank, a global financial system built around the dollar, and the U.N., as well as U.S. domination of Middle East oil fields, the world’s fuel tank. These are still the essential features of the American empire.
FDR’s death led to the Truman presidency, and the Fair Deal. The post -War era saw an increase in economic problems, and soon the “peace” turned into a “Cold War”, a situation initiated by the U.S. to justify rearmament and steps to forcefully assert American domination around the world. A crucial part of that policy was the Marshal Plan, a program whose essence was the coercion of European governments into accepting integration into an American-dominated global economic plan and rejecting any role for even mildly left political groups, but which was packaged as a charitable act of the highest order. At home, the “radicals” who helped win the war with their support of the Democrats were attacked and turned out of unions, academia, and politics. FDR’s second Vice President Henry Wallace led an insurgent Progressive Party effort against Truman in ‘48, but his campaign faltered at the end, as many on the Left felt that Truman was better than having the Republicans back.
Truman won re-election, and promptly escalated the Cold War with measures such as NATO and later the Korean War. National Security Council Directive 68 enshrined the target of total U.S. global military domination, 50 years ahead of the Project for a New American Century that “progressives” moan about today. And the new CIA and Department of “Defense” enabled this policy goal, with, amongst other projects, “Operation Mockingbird”, a total infiltration of American media by the CIA. Truman’s regime also stepped up repression of dissidents at home. By the time Joe McCarthy, the person most associated with the “witch hunts” got started, the job had mostly been done by the Democrats. When the Republicans took over in ‘52, it was a Republican party that had largely bought the state-coordinated economic policies (based upon an ever-growing expansion of credit/debt) and globalist/interventionist foreign policy of the Democrats, while forces outside the two-party corporate consensus had largely been eliminated. We were ready for the Eisenhower years. In fact, since the New Deal, American politics have been totally dominated by forces associated with the corporate elite’s various groupings and think-tanks.
New Frontier to New Cold War
By the late ‘50s, new problems were arising. Several recessions had created many doubts about economic stability, while international financial problems created by increased economic competition and centered upon the instability of the dollar mounted. African Americans began mounting campaigns aimed at securing civil rights supposedly accorded them almost 100 years earlier. Protests were mounting about the growth and testing of nuclear weaponry, as more and more information about the harmful effects of nuclear fallout from testing spread. And social pressures were threatening U.S. control of various sections of the empire, particularly Asia and Latin America. John Kennedy won the 1960 elections with promises to deal with such challenges. Much is made nowadays of JFK’s supposed enlightenment that grew while he was in office, and how he could have brought about a much better world had he survived. He indeed did not fulfill the agenda of some of the elite regarding Cuba, and may have dragged his feet way too much regarding an escalation of the war in Indochina, though he did initiate quite a step-up in the war effort, and these factors probably played a role in his assassination, very much an inside job (regardless of what Noam Chomsky may say). But he fulfilled his role quite well in the essential sectors.
JFK’s most enduring domestic measure was a tax cut that was heavily tilted towards business. His “Alliance for Progress” in Latin America was based upon the formation of the region’s notorious death squads, and included coups in El Salvador and Guatemala. The government of Canada was removed in a semi-coup in early ‘63 when it failed to go along with Kennedy plans for deployment of nuclear weapons. And a CIA-managed coup in Iraq in February of that year brought to power the Ba’ath Party, whose ranks included a young officer (and CIA asset) named Saddam Hussein. The CIA then provided the new regime with the names of thousands of leftists who were then eliminated. Also in the Middle East, JFK in the Summer of ‘63 stood firmly behind the Shah of Iran as he bloodily put down demonstrations against his dictatorial regime. And Kennedy’s Secretary of “Defense” McNamara undertook the building of a conventional war fighting capacity, which enabled the U.S. armed forces to fight actual wars on the ground.Some folks like to claim that JFK had planned to destroy the power of the Federal Reserve. One would wonder then why he appointed Robert Roosa of the CFR and the New York Fed Bank, the most important component of the system, to Assistant Treasury Secretary, and why Roosa not only stuck with JFK, but became an adviser to Robert Kennedy when he ran for president in ‘68, and brother Ted when he ran in ‘80. Do the Kennedys enjoy appointing advisers they disagree with? And do people from the top of the Fed system support those who would do away with their power? Likewise with McGeorge Bundy, CFR member and an adviser so close to JFK he was considered a family member, who stuck around for LBJ and later headed the Ford Foundation, a critical component of the elite’s control mechanism.
JFK’s assassination brought to power Lyndon Baines Johnson, who essentially carried out the New Frontier’s policies, including more protection for the civil rights of African Americans, coupled with a massive increase in social welfare spending (“The Great Society”) and a relentless escalation in the U.S. military commitment in Indochina. In ‘64, leftists on the whole swallowed whatever doubts they had about Johnson, frightened as they were by the GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, who seemed to promise a rollback to pre-New Deal policies and an attack on the minimal progress made in civil rights, and a reckless foreign policy, as he even attacked the ban on the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons agreed to in 1963, which received overwhelming bi-partisan support. Meanwhile, a new political movement was growing out of the struggles around civil rights and nuclear weapons testing. In general it supported the Democrats, in spite of signals such as the Tonkin Gulf Incident, a staged event (it turned out) which led to congressional authorization to pursue a virtually limitless war in Indochina. Johnson won an overwhelming victory, which also left Congress under the most one-sided control of the Democrats since the mid ‘30s. Less than a month after LBJ’s re-inauguration, the U.S. government dramatically escalated the war in Indochina.
With the expansion of the war, along with more and more military interventions such as in the Dominican Republic, and the massive growth and spread of the civil rights struggle, the new political movement found itself having to outflank the power structure on the left. At the same time, a cultural underground which was restricted to a few souls during the Beatnik era got a huge boost with new trends in popular music exemplified by the “British invasion”, as well as the spread of the use of psychoactive substances. The political and the cultural found themselves increasingly merged, even if not always on the same page. The U.S. had its first homegrown mass movement in decades, one that came to be labeled appropriately enough “The New Left”. It generally eschewed rigorous political analysis, to its disadvantage, but its strength lay in its insistence upon grassroots democracy and break with existing models of “socialism” such as the Soviet Union(which were nothing of the sort). By 1967, in spite of a massive escalation of the U.S. military effort in Indochina in both the extent and the sheer numbers, the war was stalemated due to unexpectedly strong resistance by the Vietnamese. Disaffection was mounting even inside the military ranks. Growing unrest in the African American community led to mounting urban riots. All this, plus the growth in the organized opposition movement in all its aspects, was leading to a situation in which the stability of American capitalism was being called into question, and there seemed to be no way to contain this challenge within the political system.
At this point, certain elements within the ruling elite, expressed via the Democratic Party, began to openly break with the Administration, and moved towards even exploring a challenge to LBJ’s renomination for the ‘68 election. This came in the persona of Minnesota senator Gene McCarthy. Seemingly overnight, people involved in the movement began to be bombarded by the message of “Clean with Gene”, i.e. clean up the scruffy,often even hippy-ish appearance effected by many of the activists, eschew radical tactics like the October ‘67 siege of the Pentagon,and work to do what was deemed “really effective”, electing a new president who would change the bad policies. The fact that these policies were the result of systemic imperatives that were independent of the identity of the president, imperatives that McCarthy did not at all question, was lost upon many well-meaning activists who had still to move beyond instinctual reaction to a bad situation, especially when this approach promised a much greater acceptance by the mainstream (and critical parents). Public discontent with the war, and with economic problems that were being exacerbated by it (e.g. yet more international financial crises, inflation), as well as the increasing ungovernability of the U.S.), led to surprising successes for McCarthy, bringing Bobby Kennedy into the race, and leading LBJ to drop out.
Political activists were now appealed to on the basis of Kennedy’s popularity with African American and Mexican Americans, the poor in general, and the Kennedy mystique, leading to the increasingly popular feeling that LBJ was the usurper of JFK’s legacy, that the nation needed to return to the path of Camelot. Kennedy’s acceptance of systemic imperatives, indeed his association with ruling class figures such as Robert Roosa (see above), were simply not questioned. After all, theory/analysis was deemed “unhip” and useless. One result was that the political movement did very little between the time of the Pentagon and the Chicago Democratic Convention in August ‘68, aside from the Columbia University revolt. One wonders what could have happened had there been an independent political movement with massive street presence in May ‘68, at the same time France was undergoing a national general strike and near-revolution. The government had already launched a counterinsurgency operation against dissidents, COINTELPRO, in fact had begun a long-term project of planning the use of the military for domestic policing, and this had its effects; but this pacification via the political process seemed even more effective.
Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June ‘68 (likely by the state), with the nomination seemingly within reach. McCarthy’s challenge did not stand up either, and by the August convention the forces which still supported LBJ managed to nominate Vice President Humphrey. The repression of the dissidents on both the convention floor and outside in the streets of Chicago was so intense that the political process appeared to most activists to be shutting them out. Many of them turned against the system in a more fundamental way, though a few did come back to support Humphrey against the “greater of two evils” Nixon. Late ‘68 and ‘69 saw a dramatic growth in the numbers of those who thought that the kind of changes necessary in American society could not be achieved via electoral politics, as well as a growing convergence between the political and cultural wings of “the movement”, symbolized best by the events of People’s Park in Berkeley in the Spring of ‘69. A radicalization of many young Americans proceeded in spite of the fact that more and more elements of the ruling elite began to openly call for disengagement from the war in Indochina, recognizing that the very governability of American society was being threatened. Within the movement , new forces arose, most notably focusing on the oppression of women and gays and the destruction of the environment, tendencies whose critiques implicitly questioned the very nature of the organization of life under capitalism. Increasingly, dissent spread from the ranks of college students and professionals to the factories and the armed forces, where a breakdown in social discipline threatened the very conditions of capitalist (re)production.
In April 1970, U.S. forces openly invaded Cambodia in pursuit of a “solution” to the Vietnam war. America’s campuses exploded, and in the process demonstrators at the campuses of Kent State in Ohio and Jackson State in Mississippi were shot dead by National Guard troops. This led to a national campus strike and a nation-wide wave of outrage. At this point, Democratic Party operatives stepped in with suggestions that dissidents turn away from “violent” demonstrations and other forms of direct action, and put their efforts into electing a better Congress. Their efforts resulted in a massive diversion of energy. The strike failed to sustain itself or build political structures which could coalesce the dissident energy into a systemic challenge, and never again did the opposition manage to regain these heights. The 1970 congressional elections failed to produce much change either, but by then falling troop levels in Indochina (and with that, falling numbers of people being drafted) began to cool the anti-war opposition. COINTELPRO was also doing its number, as many people either got “removed” or scared or became paranoid to the point of paralysis and inability to function effectively. And the cooptation operatives, armed with lots of experience in the maturing advertising and PR industries, launched a campaign of recuperation, diverting the various sectors of the movement away from working within a collective wider struggle with its goal being the replacement of the system and into seeing themselves as interest groups pushing their particular competing causes within existing political and economic institutions (“equal pay”, “black capitalism”, “green consumerism”, “peace candidates”). Those who pushed for radical changes got branded “unrealistic” and were pushed aside. Once again, “pragmatism” won out.
By 1972, forces working for reform within the Democratic Party managed to actually capture control of the party’s nomination process, resulting in the McGovern candidacy. His campaign already resulted in the massive electoral involvement of many previously active in more radical forms of political activity. I was to meet many of them while working in the campaign, which for me was actually a pretty radical departure from a conservative past. As i kept on learning more and more things about the nature of American society and capitalism, i was also encountering messages from campaign figures about staying practical and pragmatic, and that change was going to come slowly, and that capitalism is not really the problem, it’s the lack of good enlightened management. Many of the volunteers knew better, but stayed quiet, or else justified their involvement with “most people aren’t ready”, and “we owe it to the Vietnamese to at least elect someone who’ll stop the killing”. Good ol’ guilt-tripping. The more i found out about the nature of the McGovern campaign -- the corporate financing behind it, the ideas of many of the advisers, McGovern’s own support for the essential features of the empire, its actions at the convention (New York Times, 7/13/72) when it moved to keep out of the platform “radical” planks like support for abortion rights (only months before Roe vs. Wade) while supporting ones that called for strong U.S. military presence in Europe and the Middle East -- the more radicalized i became. Yet i saw around me what was the tail end of the Berkeley radical scene becoming more stagnant, more self-absorbed, more willing to compromise, as the campaign went on.
By McGovern’s landslide loss in November, it seemed like an era had ended.The energy had been totally taken out of the Berkeley radical community. It was to last a few more years, but those were definitely years of decline. Much the same ensued all across the land, be it in Ann Arbor, Madison, Boston or New York. McGovern went on to a career of lobbyist for U.S. Middle East business interests and a propagandist for the biotech industry, though he’s still regarded as an extreme leftist by many commentators. Of his top aides, Gary Hart went on to chart a pro-military career as a “new” Democrat in the Senate (and the CFR), and Kennedy associate Frank Mankiewitz, proceeded to head his own corporate PR firm. Meanwhile, many if not most former activists had dropped out, cynicised by the experience with McGovern and/or convinced that the public was just too conservative to listen (though almost 50% didn’t even bother voting), tired by years of seemingly endless struggle with no light at the end of the tunnel, and increasingly focused on material survival as economic conditions worsened and their communities of support melted away.
Interestingly enough, Nixon’s domestic agenda looked a lot like the Great Society, in many ways this was the most welfare capitalism administration of all, and this was true about Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford as well. Nixon’s ‘72 triumph was short-lived. He was cut down by “Watergate”, in reality a ruling elite media-led coup brought about by the systemic need for a scapegoat as economic problems matured into a fully-blown crisis marked by inflation, in particular with the price of oil and food, and mounting instability in crucial areas like the Middle East. Nixon also probably won a few enemies by trying to muscle in on the CIA’s drug-dealing network. This set up a ‘76 showdown, another opportunity for the Democratic Party’s “left”. McGovern couldn’t keep the New Deal-forged Democratic Party coalition together, in particular the minions of the AFL-CIO. But he did manage to divert many former activists into a career within the party, where they stayed and “moderated” their course. By 1976, they had splintered into their various interest groups. It was funny to watch one guy i knew who started the year backing former senator Fred Harris, the “populist” candidate backed by Rolling Stone, whose idea for a new economic system was a blend of statist regulation and free market competition. By April, my friend was backing California governor Jerry Brown, who at the time was a messenger of “Buddhist” voluntary simplicity and more discipline. And by convention time he was OK with former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, who seemingly came out of nowhere to pick up the nomination. It wasn’t till later that we all found out about the Rockefeller-created Trilateral Commission, and Carter’s membership in it. Most people didn’ t care anyway, what mattered was that he wasn’t a Republican. And it didn’t matter that his Vice President (Mondale) and just about his entire cabinet turned out to be members(Sklar, “Trilateralism”).
Carter’s first couple of years were marked more than anything else by an “energy crisis”, which was pushed as a major reason for why Americans should accept lowered living standards, sold as “the moral equivalent of war”, and necessitated by the end of the ability of capitalism to afford its welfare format as debt levels began reaching hard-to-manage levels. That was to be the raison d’etre for the imposition of the Trilateral Commission’s agenda, a blueprint for pushing back what was called “democratic distemper” by the likes of Samuel Huntington (more recently known for “The Clash of Civilizations”), the destabilizing attempt by everyone to participate in decision-making, and promoting instead more “governability”. But this didn’t stick. By the second half of Carter’s term, the drift was towards a new hot phase of the Cold War. It became a reality thanks to a CIA operation which initiated guerrilla war inside Afghanistan in July ‘79, bringing within months a Soviet intervention, leading to yet more covert war efforts, out of which came the so-called “Islamic Fundamentalist” armed struggle and groups like al Qaeda, with full U.S. assistance and guidance. In addition, the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and increasing tensions between the U.S. and the new government were to lead to an outright confrontation by the end of ‘79. Both these developments led to a massive U.S. armed forces build-up, the adoption of draft registration, and for the first time, via the Carter Doctrine, a declaration that the U.S. government would use its armed forces to secure the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, the administration began wholesale cuts in social welfare spending, portending the Reagan era, and drew up plans for cracking down on a looming air traffic controllers’ strike, plans which were put into effect by Reagan, launching a still-continuing all-out war on union rights. Attempts were made to pull leftists into the Democrats to support a challenge to Carter by Ted Kennedy, who again had Robert Roosa (now also a Trilateral Commission member) on his roster. But Camelot take 3 failed to pull in many people, in part due to the fact that this Kennedy was sponsoring a bill called Senate Bill 1, which prefigured today’s PATRIOT Act.. Appeals at the last minute to unite behind Carter and prevent Reagan’s win failed to generate a wave of support.
Attack of the Bush-Clinton Clones
During the Reagan-Bush years (many people contend that Bush was in charge from the very beginning), the Democratic Party was the scene of a vigorous debate between those who wanted to hold on to the New Deal/New Frontier/Great Society/’70s reforms idea of what the party was, and those who argued that the party was becoming out of touch with a conservative trend, and needed an image and ideological makeover. At the same time, the political activist community gained new momentum due to campaigns for a nuclear weapons freeze, against military involvement in Central America, and for totally isolating the Apartheid regime in South Africa. While the forces in favor of a more conservative makeover, e.g.The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) slowly won influence within the party, efforts continued to incorporate the activist community. These particularly were focused on the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson in ‘84 and ‘88, with the color aspect and the sometimes radical-sounding rhetoric scoring points with the politicos, who were often either too naive to notice Jackson’s deep support for the essentials of capitalism, or were confident in the face of historical evidence about the ability of small steps to bring about eventual fundamental changes. Jesse’s volunteers were delivered to the eventual nominees in their losing efforts, as once again vital energy was spent in charges against windmills. This was one important reason that the movement didn’t really grow far beyond the usual activist ghettos, and in spite of surprising support at the beginning of the ‘91 Gulf War, the movement fell silent soon after, and seemed to pretty much disappear. Bush fell not so much due to mass resistance at home as due to souring economic conditions and a division of the more conservative electorate by the candidacy of Ross Perot. And it was one of the “new” Democrats, Bill Clinton, a DLC operative, as well as a member of the CFR and Trilateral Commission, who did win.
It would be hard to imagine a Republican who could accomplish as much for capital as did Clinton in his two terms. He pushed through NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and other globalization measures. His administration enacted the ‘96 Telecommunications Act which was the largest give-away of public domain to private interests in U.S. history. matched with a giveaway in the realm of the Internet. It went all-out to promote the bio-tech industry. The ’96 Anti Terrorism Act, which followed the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April ‘95 (about which serious questions remain) paved the way wholesale for today’s police state measures, and words were backed by action in the streets of Seattle in December ‘99 as U.S. military units were used in domestic policing operations, part of a far-reaching planning process which preceded today’s developments re Homeland Security/Northern Command. Welfare “reform” went further than any other bill to undermine what remained of the social welfare measures of the New Deal which provided a safety net for living standards.The Iraqi trade embargo and pretty regular air attacks on that impoverished country led to over one million deaths and massive misery. The attack on Yugoslavia in ‘99 in complete violation of international law opened the way for moves being undertaken by Bush Junior today, and was coupled with a reorientation of NATO towards being openly an intervention force whose task is the enforcement of corporate global interests anywhere in the world. Yet it would be a complete mistake to paint Clinton as a “traitor” to the ideals of the Democratic Party. These “ideals” have never amounted to more than salad-dressing on top of a corporate elite dinner whose essence was the securing of enough legitimacy at home to secure continued capital accumulation everywhere, ultimately by any means necessary. There was much more continuity with the Democratic past than a break with it, as i’ve tried to show so far.
Yet many a leftist made the argument in 2000 that Clinton’s VP Gore, like a DLC operative as well as elite-connected, should be supported because he wasn’t a Republican. Others supported Ralph Nader and the Green Party to send a message, never mind the fact that what he stood for, a “green” capitalism, showed a total ignorance of what we actually face and what is needed. Luckily, little energy was lost in the presidential election, in part because the political movement in the U.S, rejuvenated in a major way with the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in ‘99, and often showing a radical edge, was now part of an international struggle that in no way could be contained within the Democratic Party. The American scene of that movement , however, did (and does) feature the presence of many non- governmental organizations (NGOs) funded by the same corporate foundations that fund elite think-tanks, which are still maneuvering to impose their reformist visions of “a seat at the table” alongside corporate decisionmakers and marginalize those many who would contest global capitalism in its entirety and fight for direct (i.e. genuine) democratic decision-making in all aspects of life. It’s with these NGOs that the Democratic Party still hopes to use to bring the anti-corporate global opposition movement under control.
Supreme Court Coup to 9/11 and Beyond
The Clinton years were synonymous with an unprecedented economic boom that seemed like it could last forever; at least it was a boom for a tiny wealthy elite, the average household in fact was barely making as much as it did in 1977 in real money. But this was all a speculation boom, the biggest speculation bubble in history in fact, and one that required ever more intense looting of the rest of the world to sustain itself. The bubble burst in March 2000. Luckily for Clinton’s legacy, the results of the burst took a year or more to manifest themselves, by which point he was out of office. Many people still spout horrible ignorant trash about wishing to return to the pre-Bush boom, showing not the slightest inkling of what that period entailed (or are they just oblivious?). Bush managed to steal the election, but could not stem the tide of history, and the global anti-capitalist movement continued to grow not only in size, but intensity,a s shown by the events at the G-8 summit in Genoa in July ‘01.The plans for a massive step-up in U.S. efforts to police both America as well as the world, plans that were already clearly drawn well before Bush was even nominated, had to be quickly put into effect. The 9/11 provocation did take place under a Republican administration, but it had the clearly-defined legacy of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor and Gulf of Tonkin (as well as Oklahoma City, i believe) behind it, established during Democratic regimes. And the operation itself was well into the planning stage by the time Bush took office. While Clinton called for an all-out fight against al Qaeda,his administration was cooperating with that group in operations set in the Balkans. Likewise with plans for U.S. military intervention in Central Asia, first discussed openly by Carter’s national security adviser Zbig Brzezinski in his ‘97 book “The Grand Chessboard”, in which he also discussed the desirability of a Peal Harbor-like event (what an excellent analogy) to justify the coming war, 3 years before the PNAC made a similar statement. The crackdown on civil liberties since 9/11 is the culmination of decades of strategic state planning i’ve discussed above. And the Democrats have played along, providing total support for the “war on terrorism” and the PATRIOT Act., completely accepting the official version of what happened on 9/11, the most ridiculous conspiracy story of all.
And now, with 2004 approaching, we hear yet again the pleas to get Bush out of office at any cost, and how the Left must work within the Democratic Party to do so, be it from the pages of The Nation to the airwaves of Pacifica Radio Network to events like the April town hall meeting in Mill Valley, California with Daniel Ellsberg and David Harris. The common theme is “work for the best candidate, but unite behind whomever is nominated”. Much is made of what certain candidates *say*, as if that has ever amounted to anything. As Watergate’s “Deep Throat” said, “follow the money”. Dennis Kucinich is funded by the left foundations whose job is still to funnel elite money in such ways as to construct a Left that is unthreatening to the powers-that-be and which acts as a safety valve, warning policymakers of excesses. He voted for the bill giving Bush post-9/11 authority to fight “terrorists” anywhere he wants, a blank check even more outrageous than the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. When the House passed a bill in March backing not only the troops in Iraq but Bush’s conduct of policy, Kucinich did not vote against it. And his vision of a reformed America is a mush of warmed-over New Deal platitudes. Howard Dean, promoted by the likes of MoveOn, a subsidiary of the Democratic Party masquerading as a hip protest group, is a supporter of AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S. (in general, the Democrats have outdone the Republicans in supporting Israeli policies of aggression, occupation and ethnic cleansing), and of the “war on terrorism”, and an advocate of slashing social benefits. His funders include Goldman Sachs and AOL-Time Warner. John Kerry is a member of the Trilateral Commission and the CFR, an alumnus of the secret fraternity Skull and Bones(just like both Bushes), and an outright supporter of the war on Iraq. And it gets worse from there. The argument that getting rid of Bush can’t help but improve the situation doesn’t hold water even on its face. All the candidates support the contrived “war on terrorism”, and differ with Bush only over the specifics of that war. In fact, even those candidates who opposed the Iraq war, such as Dean and Kucinich, did so on the basis of that war diverting resources from the effort against “terrorists”, a direction towards which the foundation-funded pseudo-Left has been trying to divert the anti-war movement.
But there are deeper problems with the electoral strategy. Real power in the U.S. is wielded not by the president, who is really but a glorified janitor, a frontman, but by the members of elite unelected bodies such as the CFR and Trilateral Commission. Policy decisions are made out of the public view, and elections are merely ways to select the time and manner of how these decisions will be enforced. In a sense, the public gets to do a taste test, to see which brand of governance, which slick rhetoric, it prefers this year. Elections also are contests between different groups of elites to see which one would get to dominate the political process. We “democratically” legitimate elite control of every aspect of our life, we help deny to the world the dictatorial reality of America. Since at least the New Deal, the same CFR-associated group of elites have controlled both parties. Since JFK’s assassination, the entirety of the U.S. government has been a debating club hiding a military-industrial dictatorship. The willingness of lots of people to take to the streets in defiance of the bipartisan consensus, even in defiance of the law-and-order apparatus as in New York City at the 2/15/03 mass anti-war rally, demonstrates that lots of people are willing to go outside the consensus, to challenge the very nature of power in this society. Merging back into the Democratic Party is a totally needless and indeed disastrously bad move, precisely why those with interests to protect are promoting it.
The material conditions with which both the elites and those seeking a different world are faced are what will determine the actions of those in power, not party labels. At this point, those conditions can be summarized into three points. One is the growing global economic crisis, rooted in the very structure of capitalism, whose effects are becoming more visible and more disastrous by the day. The second is mounting global ecocide, careening quickly towards unimaginable disasters and the likelihood of a planet no longer able to support life within a couple of generations at the most. The third, in a way tieing the first two, is Peak Oil, the looming (if not already here) peak in world oil production, which will have incredible effects both economic and ecological. The needs of capital accumulation dictate the policies that elites, and the governments which enforce their interests, must undertake: ever-more savage austerity measures, ever more efforts to pursue control of markets, investment opportunities and resources, with resort to war increasingly necessary, and ever-more repressive police state measures to be able to carry out the first two. This is what we face regardless of which party, which group of elites, is in power. Only a totally different social system, a radically new way of living, can get us out of this mess, and that will not be accomplished by electing someone, it will not be accomplished by a series of small steps over a period of many years. We just don’t have the luxury of time, the hour is getting late. An exploration of coherent political practice outside the existing system is very much an imperative on today’s menu.
Jack Straw June 12, 2003